Impatient North Pressures Lincoln for Action before Civil War’s First Major Battle
When the Civil War began with the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln responded by issuing a call for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to serve for 90 days. The Union responded enthusiastically to the president’s call, supplying men, arms and equipment, forming a Northern army to suppress the Southern rebellion. Then the nation waited…and waited…and waited.
By the middle of July, Lincoln’s 90-day enlistment term was drawing to a close, and no major engagement had yet been fought. The North was growing anxious—and impatient. Politicians, the public and the press demanded that the Union army invade Virginia and make a move on Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.
Typical of the growing clamor for action was this editorial, printed by the Freedom's Champion (Atchison, Kansas) on July 20, 1861—ironically, the day before the great fight the paper was calling for occurred, the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), which resulted in a Confederate victory and the rout of the Union army:
The Government must fight for its life. In doing so it must either destroy the men who are against it or be itself destroyed by them.
There is no doubt or question as to this.
Therefore the War for the Union must be thorough, fearful, final. Its end must be the total annihilation of the foes of the Government. Its victory must carry with it the destruction of the causes which produced it. Without this there will be no victory, no safety and no peace.
If, then, the Government has resolved what to do, let it do it at once. If we are to fight, let the order be always “Forward March!” Let it strike with might and main, and strike to annihilate all opposition. All the strength of the nation, all the drastic energy of the people, must go into it. Neither ammunition, money, troops, nor generals must be spared. The war must go on. If it decimates the people, if it empties every bank vault in the North, if we have to crowd every foot of Southern soil with a soldier, the Government must be preserved and its enemies punished.
Fight! is the shout from Maine to Oregon. Fight! rings in every heart in the North. Fight! is the vital impulse of the people.
But the Administration seems to drag. It moves along with about the volition of a respectable snail. It is dragging at the coat-tails of the people like an anchor attached to a man-of-war. Its slowness is becoming proverbial. The people begin to reproach it.
We do not pretend to know what is the cause of this resolute holding back. We are aware of the fact that it came into power with a depleted treasury, with its ships abroad in foreign seas, with its army reduced to almost nothing and officered by traitors, with its arms stolen and its ammunition seized; but all these have been restored by the energy and activity of the people. The cannon thundering against Sumter smote the rock of public revenue like the rod of Moses in the wilderness, and money has poured into the treasury in abundant streams. A million of armed men are ready for the conflict. Arms are not now wanting, equipments have been supplied, provisions are in abundance, and men are burning to avenge the insults traitors have heaped on our flag.
Why then do we halt? Why is Richmond not taken? Why is not Manassas in our possession? Why is not our army moving southward, as it ought to and can, scattering the hosts of treason before it like dead leaves before the winds of Autumn? Why is not something done?
This do-nothing policy is demoralizing the people and spreading the seeds of disaffection as rapidly as it is possible to do it. The soldiers are tired of inaction. The people want a blow struck. The Nation stands breathless at this suspense. Not without reason, either, for certainly everything looks bad.
Traitors are caught with their arms in their hands, take an oath of allegiance and are released, to carry information to the enemy, and as soon as the moon is obscured crawl on their bellies and shoot picket guards…This is the policy that seems to be pursued. Don’t even tread on the corns of a traitor, albeit he is found with arms in his hands! Deal with them kindly, although they will shoot you whenever your back is turned! Pursue a policy of amiable weakness. But don’t hurt anyone!
How long is this system to continue? When will we do something? The Administration would do well to heed the sentiment of the people, or the control will soon pass from it. Lincoln and Scott can ride this current or be overwhelmed in it. The choice is with them. They must make it soon, for it will not much longer brook delay.
The cannon of Mansfield should even now be thundering in front of Richmond. The bayonets of McClellan ought to glisten in the sun a hundred miles south of Martinsburg. The columns of Ben. Butler should be making a detour behind Petersburg. Fremont’s headquarters ought to be located at Memphis in two weeks. And the convenient limbs of trees should have suspended from them the bloated carcasses of every traitor that opposed their progress. There is an army already gathered large enough to do this. The soldiers are anxious for the fight. The warm Northern heart beats fast with the fever of anticipation, and the cool Northern brain calculates the chances and sees that it is practicable. “Onward!” said Napoleon, “there shall be no Alps!” and Italy was open to Paris. “Onward” says the North, “there shall be no difficulty that is insurmountable,” and whenever the Chief responds the road to Richmond will be clear, the grand army will defile by platoons into Montgomery, and the victorious eagles of the Republic will perch upon the dome of the City Halls of Charleston and New Orleans.
Let the army do something. The red-tapeists of the circumlocution office have ruled long enough, and the people are tired of their policy. They want to hear the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Action is demanded. Treason can be put down as well in six months as in six years, if the Commander-in-Chief cries “Forward March!” instead of “Halt!” Piracy and treason have had their day, and it is time for Government and Patriotism to assert their strength. On to Manassas! Forward to Richmond!
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.